Clare Saumell VanderWeele

word wrangler.

On Being Known

Our world seems to have an obsession with being known. Perhaps it is an innate human need, I don’t know. But it lies at the heart of the insane phenomenon of celebrity culture and leaves few people unaffected by the opportunity to claim a mere 15 minutes of fame.

But is being known by many the same as really, genuinely being known?

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I believe the biggest thing you lose when someone you love dies is that feeling of being known by them. To realize suddenly that no one now on this earth knows you like they did is jarring. It is a startling identity crisis.

For me, Chris often knew me better than I knew myself. Who was I when his life was snatched from my grasp? For a long time, I felt hollowed out. Emptied.

I think acceptance of death and peace in the grief process can only come after you’ve fully made the effort to discover exactly who you are.

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Losing the official title of “wife” made me more fully aware of how my identity was built upon labels. Mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee, alum, American… etc.

I wasn’t ready to take on the label of “widow.” It felt like a swear on my lips.

Not only because his death tore my life apart, not only because it plunged me into the depths of existential crisis, and not only because I wasn’t prepared to raise our son by myself. But also because I didn’t know who I was without him.

I hadn’t been by myself long term since I was 15. Half of my identity had almost always been nurtured by the presence of someone by my side.

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In the deepest days of my grief, I spent an awful lot of time withdrawing from people, from connection, from community. It was depression, it was self-protection, it was pride. But in those days, I knew myself even less. And I wasn’t very nice to myself as a result.

I can’t explain how much work it took to grow out of that pit. It took a whole lot of prayer. And it took a village of family and friends. It took tears and cold sweats in the middle of the night. It took panic attacks and painfully slow steps towards a future I couldn’t comprehend.

And then, somewhere along the line – a time I can’t begin to pinpoint – I began to stand a little taller. I began to believe I deserved to ask for what I wanted. I learned what it was I wanted in the first place.

I began to know myself.

For the first time in a very, very long time, I liked who I was. I came to the profound realization that I didn’t have to be known by anyone except for, first, God, and then myself.

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Today, I’m thankful that when I least wanted it, I became slowly more connected. The circle of people I love and who love me is mingled with old and new friends. This circle is testimony to what and who has built me and also a reflection of the person that I have become.

β€œTo be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
― Timothy Keller

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1 Comment

  1. I love this, Clare. I hope to hear more and more of the story of how you came to know and accept yourself. What a good reminder on Valentine’s Day!

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